A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Considering Leiden is such a tiny town, it has so many beautiful places to offer that seem to have fallen right out of a fairy-tale book. No matter your mood or the weather, if alone or in a group of friends, – you’ll always find a spot where you can feel a bit magical when you need to.
There is one place especially that never lets me down in this city. If I am stuck in my work and need to get a fresh overview, if I am in a funk and need to let my thoughts wonder, if I feel like enjoying the sun somewhere calm, or if I have someone to visit and want to give them the best impression of Leiden – de Burcht is always there for me.
In the centre of Leiden and built on a little (man-made) hill, de Burcht really gives a great overview over the town. However, it is also a nice place to just hang out and enjoy the sun, or to roll down the little hill (a rare occasion in the Netherlands) or to sit and read, leaning your back against those old thick walls. Or to just stroll around and look at all the beautiful little houses around the hill.
De burcht was built around 1150 – and apparently you can tell by the bricks and the way they are laid which parts have been repaired later. Originally it served as a protection against – and this doesn’t come as surprise – the water. It was seldom actually used for fighting. However, the little gaps or ‘windows’ in the walls did serve archers to have a wide view and still be protected by the walls. So some battles must have been fought around here. Apparently, in 1203 the fifteen year old countess Ada had to fight her uncle William after the death of her father Dirk van Holland. – An ‘opvolgingsstrijd’, a battle about who’s next in line… – Game of thrones in Leiden? I’m sure there were dragons involved. For some reason the signs don’t say anything about that though… There’s only the lion, who protects the entrance to the Burcht area and the Leiden ‘keys’.
Anyway, already around 1400 the houses around de Burcht were built, and from 1651 onwards the city of Leiden owned the fortress. For a while it was used as water reservoir and pumped water to the fish fountain in front of the city hall. Maybe it’s just me being fascinated by old water systems, but I think that’s quite cool! Around that time, the restaurant was also built, – what is today the Café aan de Burcht, and the area became the little park that it is still today.
It’s a popular place for events today. But even when nothing is happening, the Burcht itself often becomes a little event itself, for the tourists that are climbing up one of the Netherlands’ rare ‘mountains’ to see this magical place Leiden from the point of view of its heart.